In 2022, by searching through its collections, as well as sending scientists on research trips, the National History Museum (NHM) in the UK named 351 new species of animals, a quarter of which were wasps. Although many of the species that were discovered had already been well known by local human populations sharing their habitats, classifying them scientifically is important to monitor and protect them against various threats, such as climate change or habitat loss.
The largest group of new discoveries consisted of wasps, including several species of tiny parasitic wasps from the family Megaphragma that could play a major role in agriculture. Since these insects parasitize the eggs of thrips – a type of insect which can cause significant crop damage – the wasps may act as important biological control agents.
“It’s no surprise that new wasp species came out on top, it’s just a surprise that wasps don’t come top every year,” said Gavin Broad, the principal curator in charge of insects at the NHM. “The abundance of parasitoid wasps makes the order Hymenoptera the most species-rich order of insects, but it is way behind some other groups in terms of actual species descriptions. Watch out for lots more wasps next year.”
The experts also named 84 species of beetles, 34 moths, 23 moss animals (known as “bryozoans”), 19 stick insects, 13 trematode worms, 12 protists, seven flies, two species of bumblebees from Asia, two polychaete worms from the seafloor, and a centipede with a number of segments that has never been found in nature before. Some new vertebrates were also discovered, including a new species of gecko from Seychelles, seven frogs, and three species of fish.
Besides all of these animals, the scientists also described 11 new species of algae (both living and fossil), as well as four new species of plants from southern Asia. “Although flowering plants are relatively well known as far as groups of organisms go, it is estimated that even though we have given about 450,000 species scientific names, there are about 25 percent of that left to describe,” said Sandra Knapp, a researcher at the NHM who was involved with the description of these new plant species. “Not to discover – for sure, these things we don’t know about are known by local and Indigenous peoples where they occur – we taxonomists just give them names that put them into the language of global botany.”
“Most plants have a variety of names, some specific to an area or language group, others more widespread, but the scientific names we coin can be used by anyone anywhere. This means there is a common language, one of the things we really need to help bend the curve for biodiversity. After all, if we can’t talk about a species, how can we wish to save it?” she concluded.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer
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